Dark Season

Just a week ago we set the clocks back an hour. I’m not crazy about this time switching. Sometimes I pass  all my hours in a windowless office with barely a glimpse of nature’s light. Those are sad days. The beat of my heart is connected to the sight of clouds, birds, the changing light. I need to see the sun, to feel even the wannest of warmth from winter rays on my face. I don’t do well in the dark.

But I will learn to function in the new reality of this season, to embrace this chance to shift inward, to reflect. I’ll make it work. When necessary, I will rage against the night, plan for the future. Spring will come. I will gather what I need to enrich the soil in my garden. I’ll gather friends and fill my house with laughter, ply them with good food and drink to sustain us through these dark days and take comfort and strength in our solidarity. And tonight – there’s a promise of an extraordinary moon to light the way through the dark. I’ll take that as an offering of hope.

Veteran’s Day

It should be no secret that soldiers are as vulnerable to mental damage as they are physical. This is obvious from the mental illness and drug addiction so rife in returning soldiers. My late-husband was a veteran.  Always a voluble guy, he told compelling tales of his past, of growing up in England, his travels, the movie and music business of which he was also a veteran, yet he rarely spoke about his time as a 17-20 year old British soldier in the 70s.  Like most over the past decades, the battles his government sent him into were dubious ones – even secret – and he lived with the resulting nightmares of terrible violence and shame with uncharacteristic silence.  And ultimately, he paid the price as we, his family did.

This excerpt is from the memoir I am working on:

I used to wonder why veterans are reticent to talk about their war experience. They flinch at the thoughtless question, “Did you ever kill anyone?” yet put them in a room with other soldiers, even former enemies, and in hushed tones their stories flow. Soldiers believe their experiences are too terrible to repeat to civilians. Ian did.

Can anyone who inflicted and suffered terrible violence ever really experience peace again? Maybe only those who see at least a glimmer of possibility through the demons of their past, manage to survive.  Perhaps the veterans of war keep their terrible memories locked away in the hope they will eventually disappear. And maybe I need to tell mine so they won’t.

This nod of a named-day or a float in a parade, a bumper sticker — none of these are enough. Soldiers, are claimed as points of righteous patriotism and used as political batting rams.  They return home from ostensibly protecting their country, their people — and are left with little support of the kind that can make a difference. Instead, after being feted with parties or a parade, they are expected to return to their roles of parents, children, brother, sister and friend. To carry on. Instead, an increasing number are so damaged and without support, they kill themselves and sometimes, awfully, their own families.  Something is wrong.  Silence is a killer and must be broken to save these lives tasked by governments with the notion of protecting ours.

May 1st

Six years later. A Saturday again. How different my life is now.  Today, I am grateful to just feel sadness.

An excerpt from my still-in-progress memoir:

“On the morning of May 1st, I woke early.  It was as crystalline a day as last year  – the air fresh and full of spring smells, the light extraordinary.  Molly was still asleep beside me – we’d watched a movie in bed the night before and I let her stay.  As usual, the dog and cat acted as my alarm clock, looking for food and attention.  I slipped out of bed to attend to them.  I fed the cat, filled the kettle and put the leash on the dog.  There was now a curtain over the door to the garage, but as I passed it, I saw in my mind’s eye, the scene of the previous year.  I continued out, following the dog as he made his way along the weedy area next to the black-topped street.  I breathed deeply, inhaling the earthy smells of the spring morning.  The new leaves of trees were vibrant green and light pouring through to the street created patterns of movement.  How I loved spring!  Maybe today I would go buy flowers for the garden.  That’s something I could do.  I would plant them in a different place than last year.  Too many ugly memories near the other part of the garden.

Back in the house, Molly still slept.  I found some incense I’d bought in Kyoto last summer, dug through the kitchen junk drawer to find a lighter, and went out to the garage.  I spent the year scurrying past the door, quickly getting in and out to retrieve a shovel or rake.  This morning, with the light pouring through the windows, I stood beneath the beam and lit the incense.  I waited there until the thin purple stick turned to white ash, thinking of Ian, forgiving him.  I felt calm and peaceful as I watched the stick turn white and crumble onto the cement floor.

“I hope you’re at peace, Ian.  We’re okay and …we forgive you for what you did.”  It was the closest I had come to praying in a long time.

I wanted to think of him as being at peace.  For a long time I thought of his suicide as vindictive but gradually I was realizing how much pain he must have been in – a pain existing long before I even came into his life.  I used to berate him,

“Look!  You have everything: a beautiful daughter, a supportive wife – we both love you.  You have a house, your own business.  Why isn’t it enough for you?  Why do you keep risking it all for this drug?”

Of course he couldn’t answer. But I imagine now, that none of it was enough because none of it made his pain go away. He was trying to escape what must have been a terrible, deep anguish and Molly and I were collateral damage – it was never really about us – was it?  This pain prevented him from thinking of anything but getting free of it – through drugs and finally, death.  I wanted to understand what the cause was – something in his childhood?  I searched my memory for what he told me about his past but could remember nothing to explain his troubled soul.  On the other hand, I knew he’d been traumatized by his days in the British Army in Northern Ireland and stints in the Angolan other places secret wars were fought.  He refused to tell me more saying it was too horrible to talk about although he made it clear he had killed people – did this haunt him?  In the early days together before he was using drugs again, or at least before I knew about them, he would sometimes wake in a cold sweat worrying he hurt me in his sleep.  I urged him to go to talk to someone to get counseling.

“What is some guy who has sat in an office all of his life going to make of what I have been through?  The things I’ve seen, the things I’ve had to do?  No.  I don’t want to talk to anyone about this stuff.  Especially you.  I don’t want you to know, it’s too terrible.”

And I never pushed him.  I didn’t want to know either.”


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